Archive for Braves

Exploring Justin Upton’s Trade Value

If you’re still looking for offense on the free agent market, you’re basically out of luck, other than the still-available Chase Headley. Looking at our Free Agent Tracker, the only hitter left who projects to reach a realistic 2 WAR — i.e., league average — is Jed Lowrie, who is undeniably talented but rarely healthy and probably not a shortstop. (Ignore the overly optimistic outlook on Daric Barton, since this is using Steamer/600, and he’s had 600 plate appearances total over the last four seasons.)

That means that if you’re still in a situation where you need a bat and you don’t have the finances or the flexibility to add Headley, you’re either totally out of luck or you’re looking to the trade market. That’s where the Padres turned in landing Matt Kemp, for better or worse. It’s where the Cardinals went when they landed Jason Heyward, and how the Tigers picked up Yoenis Cespedes, and how Josh Donaldson landed in Toronto, and how Miguel Montero became a Cub.

While we can’t ever truly know for certain who is “available” on the trade market, we can say with reasonable confidence that Justin Upton is. As the Braves signaled their intention to shift from win-now to something resembling a mild rebuild with the firing of GM Frank Wren and the trade of Heyward, moving Upton — who can be a free agent following 2015 — seems like the logical next step. Unsurprisingly, his player tag at MLBTR has been full of activity over the last few weeks.

Upton, for the moment, is still a Brave, and we don’t know whether that’s because Atlanta wants too much or other teams aren’t stepping up — the answer, almost certainly, is both. But with the added information we have thanks to recent moves, can we get closer to finding his true trade value?

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Looking for Value in the Non-Tenders

The list of non-tenders is out. Time to dream!

It’s actually a very tough place to shop, even if there are a few names that seem attractive this year. Only about one in twelve non-tenders manages to put up a win of value the year after they were let loose. Generally, teams know best which players to keep, and which to jettison.

You’re not going to get 12 non-tenders in your camp in any given year, but there is a way to improve your odds. It’s simple, really: pick up a player that was actually above replacement the year before. If you do that, you double your chance of picking up a productive major leaguer. So let’s look at this year’s market through that lens first.

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FG on Fox: The High Fastball and The Big Curve

Late this season, Padres righty Andrew Cashner came back from a shoulder injury with a new twist on his repertoire — again. This time, he featured a few more high fastballs and big curves than he had in the past. You’d think those two pitches are often linked across baseball, but the numbers aren’t as clear.

The last time Cashner came back from injury, he focused on throwing more two-seamers to get quicker outs, altered his changeup grip, and changed his grip on his breaking pitch. These changes were made with his health in mind, but they also served to make him a more complete pitcher.

This year, when he came back from shoulder inflammation that sidelined him for two months, Cashner again came back from a wrinkle. “I started throwing the four-seamer more in order to establish the high strike,” Cashner said before a game against the Giants in late September. Of course the pitcher knows best about his approach, but it’s worth noticing that he only threw an average of three more four-seam fastballs per game when he returned compared to the same time frame before his injury. And that his heat maps before and after his injury aren’t conclusive on the subject of high four-seamers.

He pointed out that he threw more curveballs when he came back, too. He’d thrown nine in his first fourteen starts before he got hurt. He threw 18 curves in the seven starts that came after his stint on the DL. This September was the month in which Cashner showed the best whiff rate on his curve ball in his career.

The second part of the plan was paired with the first, he admitted. That high fastball is “on the same plane” as the curveball. That makes all sorts of intuitive sense, considering the way the the idea of a high 94 mph high fastball coming the same general area as a big, dropping slow curve. It’s the kind of thing that seems to work for other pitchers.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.

2015 ZiPS Projections – Atlanta Braves

After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Atlanta Braves. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Although it hasn’t been published here yet, one assumes that Jason Heyward‘s projection (when it is available) will be one of the best among Atlanta’s collection of field players. Heyward, of course, won’t be playing for the club in 2015, having recently been traded to St. Louis in exchange for Shelby Miller et al. What that means, immediately, for the Atlantans is a more playing time for Evan Gattis in left field, at which position he made zero appearances in 2014 after starting there 47 times in 2013.

Expected to inherent Gattis’s catching role from 2014 is Christian Bethancourt, who enters just his age-23 season. Despite having recorded just a 54 wRC+ and -0.2 WAR over 117 plate appearances last year in what was effectively his debut (he appeared in a single game in 2013), Bethancourt is expected to produce enough offensively to render himself a league-average player.

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It Might Be Time For The Braves To Deal Craig Kimbrel

As November turns into December, we have a pretty good idea of what most teams are attempting to do with their short-term futures. The Red Sox are going for it, obviously, and so are the Blue Jays. The White Sox seem like they’re trying to improve for 2015; the Phillies might finally be ready to accept that they need to start over. Teams like the Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees haven’t yet made much noise, but their intentions are clear. Other than whatever it is the A’s are trying to pull, where most teams are on the success cycle is more or less an open secret.

Other than the Braves, that is. The trade that sent Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to St. Louis for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins was largely unpopular in Atlanta, but it made a considerable amount of sense for both sides, because the Cardinals got one year of the best player involved and the Braves got 10 years of two pitchers with upside. For the long term, assuming they had decided that extending Heyward was just not going to happen, it’s a smart move. For the short term, it almost unquestionably made their 2015 team worse, and there’s been at least one recent media report that indicates that “it sounds as if the Braves will make moves aimed toward competing for titles in 2017 rather than the next two seasons.”

If so, that makes sense. There’s obvious appeal in having a winner ready for the new ballpark the club will move into in 2017, and this current Braves team, as constructed, isn’t likely to be particularly good. There’s constant rumors that Justin Upton could be traded, too, and Evan Gattis might follow him out the door as well — or worse, start every day in left field. There’s not currently a second baseman, or realistic hope for B.J. Upton, and the rotation is full of question marks. This was a bad offense last year, and without Heyward, now it looks worse.

With that reality, here’s the question: Why not trade Craig Kimbrel? Like, now? Read the rest of this entry »

Justin Upton Shouldn’t Cost More Than Jason Heyward

Justin Upton is probably going to get traded. If you believe Joel Sherman’s source, there’s no probably about it; Upton is the next Brave out of town. And it makes sense; the team is clearly retooling for the future, while Upton is entering the final year of his contract. If the Braves don’t think they’re going to sign him long-term, better to trade him now than settle a compensation pick next year.

The question will be the price. Sherman reports that the asking price for Upton is going to be higher than the return they got for Jason Heyward, and that was already a pretty solid package. As I noted this morning, teams are paying through the moon for right-handed power right now, and so Upton will be an attractive option for teams looking to balance out their line-ups.

But even with the advantage of his handedness, I’d like to suggest that the price for Upton should be less than what St. Louis gave up for Heyward. And I promise, this isn’t another discussion of Heyward’s defensive metrics. I can make the point without even needing to cite UZR or DRS, because the offensive gap just isn’t as large as people think. Here are their respective lines over the past three seasons.

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Why Isn’t Jason Heyward a Center Fielder?

“If he was such a good outfielder, why doesn’t he play center field?” This is a common refrain echoing around the hallways of UZR Incorporated, a not-entirely baseless question that generally pertains to highly rated corner outfielders. If they’re such defensive dynamos, why not put them in the most important outfield position?

Those in the know recognize that their high advanced stat scores are relative to their peers, so a collection of bad outfielders can help prop up a good corner OF glove. But the question still demands an answer, an answer I think it deserves in the case of Jason Heyward – what’s stopping the Cardinals from playing him in center field every day?

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The Fascinating Jason Heyward/Shelby Miller Swap

Maybe we should have seen this coming. It was pretty clear that the Braves were going to trade an outfielder this winter, with both Justin Upton and Jason Heyward entering their final season before they became free agents, and the team apparently preferring to employ Evan Gattis as a left fielder rather than as a catcher. The team tried to re-sign Heyward when they spent last year locking up their young core, but found his price prohibitive, so he almost certainly wasn’t staying in Atlanta beyond the 2015 season, and the Braves probably aren’t good enough to be pushing all of their chips in for the upcoming season.

So, trading Heyward now makes a good amount of sense for the Braves, and they made it clear that acquiring starting pitching was their #1 priority this winter. A natural trade partner would have a hole in right field, some rotation depth, and the potential desire and ability to try and sign Heyward to a long-term deal before hit the open market next winter. No team in baseball fit that description as well as the St. Louis Cardinals, so while we didn’t hear any pre-deal rumors of the deal that sent Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta for Heyward and Jordan Walden, it feels like we should have anticipated something like this. It’s the kind of move that seemingly makes a lot of sense for both sides.

We’ll start with the Cardinals side of things, since they’re acquiring the best player in this deal. Jason Heyward is a stud, and you don’t even have to buy into defensive metrics to agree with that statement. For 2015, Steamer projects him at +4.5 WAR per 600 plate appearances, the 16th highest total of any position player in baseball, and that’s with him grading out as just a slightly above average defender: the +10 fielding projection right field adds up to a +3.5 DEF rating, which includes the positional adjustment for playing a corner spot. In terms of forecast defensive value, Heyward’s projection puts him in roughly a similar group to guys like David Wright, Robinson Cano, Pablo Sandoval, and Josh Reddick.

It’s also a significant step back from what he’s done previously, as his career DEF/600 PA rating is +10. In other words, Steamer is projecting Heyward to take a big step back defensively and still be one of the best players in the game, because the forecast sees a 25 year old with a career 117 wRC+ and positive contact rate trends, so it thinks Heyward is on the verge of a big offensive breakout. From a purely offensive standpoint, Steamer expects Heyward to be as good (or slightly better than) the good Upton, Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, or Hanley Ramirez. If you combine the offensive level of those players with above average defensive value, well, you’re left with a superstar.

And that’s why the Cardinals have to be pretty thrilled with this move. They’re legitimately getting one of the best young players in baseball, and at the only position where they had a glaring need. Adding Heyward to fill their right field hole will end up being one of the largest improvements any team makes this winter. The question for the Cardinals is how long they’ll get to keep him.

Because of how quickly he got to the big leagues, Heyward is in line to hit free agency after his age-25 season, and he’s going to have roughly +25 career WAR when he reaches the open market. Barring a disastrous 2015 season, he’s going to get paid, and you can be certain that his agents will be pointing to the 13 year, $325 million deal that Giancarlo Stanton has agreed to as the new precedent. Sure, Heyward isn’t going to get 13/$325M, given the massive differences in power, but it seems likely that he’ll demand a deal that starts at 10 years and goes north of $200 million.

Robinson Cano got $240 million as a similarly valuable player entering his age-31 season; Heyward might not have Cano’s offensive track record, but he’s going to be selling his prime years, and the deal won’t extend into the period of his career where you’d expect him to essentially be worthless. If the Cardinals want to lock up Heyward before he gets to free agency, it’s probably going to take something like the contract they refused to give Albert Pujols. Maybe they might be able get him to take a slight pre-free agent discount and get him for 9/$200M or something in that range, but let’s dispel the notion that the Cardinals are going to be able to sign Heyward for anything other than a mountain of cash.

The team definitely has the means to take on a contract like that. They only have $73 million in committed contracts for next season, and Matt Holliday‘s contract expires at the end of the 2016 season, so they have the flexibility to make Heyward a franchise-player type offer. And they do have a history of acquiring players on the cusp of free agency, only to convince them to stick around instead, but stretching for a single player the way Heyward will require would be something new for this front office.

For now, this has to be viewed as a rental. A rental with a chance to purchase, perhaps, but this isn’t a trade-and-sign deal like we’ve seen with the R.A. Dickey or Martin Prado trades the last few years. The Cardinals are getting a great right fielder, but they’re only guaranteed to get him for one year, and then it’s either a really large long-term commitment or settling for the compensation pick that comes from letting a premium free agent walk away at year’s end. There’s a non-zero chance that the long-term return on this deal for St. Louis will be minimal.

But the short-term upgrade is huge, especially if they flip Peter Bourjos for a starting pitcher to replace Miller, which shouldn’t be too terribly difficult. Having Heyward/Walden/Pitcher To Be Named instead of Bourjos/Miller/Jenkins could be a three or four win upgrade in 2015, depending on what kind of starter they get in return, and that’s three or four wins in a year in which marginal upgrades are going to be extremely valuable to the Cardinals.

Adam Wainwright is probably just about finished as an ace, and is headed for a decline. Yadier Molina won’t be able to hit forever. Holliday isn’t a spring chicken anymore. The Cardinals have plenty of good young talent, but their best players are getting worse, and the Cardinals needed a significant upgrade to put themselves in position to win the NL Central once again. This move does just that.

The long-term cost will essentially boil down to what you believe Shelby Miller is. Is he a top-flight young pitcher, the guy who has produced +6 WAR by runs allowed in 370 big league innings, and just turned 24? or is he a two-pitch tease, overrated by run prevention, heading for a short-term crash when his mediocre peripherals catch up with him? A strong case could be made for both outcomes.

Miller throws a lot of fastballs up in the zone, and as Eno noted through multiple conversations with pitchers this year, high fastballs can produce some terrific results, often inducing a lot of useless contact that isn’t captured in FIP-type metrics. If Miller’s approach to pitching up with a good fastball makes him a guy who can sustain a BABIP in the .270-.280 range, the underwhelming strikeout rates become a lot less problematic. If you’re a Braves fan who wants to be excited about this deal, here’s the first ~400 IP comparison you want to use.

Shelby Miller 370 9% 20% 39% 10% 79% 0.267 92 110 110
Matt Cain 437 10% 20% 37% 6% 72% 0.259 83 86 102

Cain was always better at home run prevention than Miller, but the template is similar, and it’s certainly possible that Miller is a (somewhat worse) new version of the Cain skillset. If Miller’s FIP-beating ways prove sustainable to a significant degree, picking up four discounted years of a quality young arm is a very solid return for a single year of Heyward, especially if the Braves don’t see themselves as strong contenders in 2015.

But Cain is notable because most pitchers can’t do what he’s done, and not every young hurler who posts a low BABIP for 400 innings is definitely going to follow in his footsteps. Here’s another, less-rosy comparison for Miller, again with career performance through the equivalent of two full seasons.

Jeremy Hellickson 402 8% 17% 38% 10% 82% 0.244 79 115 110
Shelby Miller 370 9% 20% 39% 10% 79% 0.267 92 110 110

A couple of years ago, the arguments for Hellickson were the same as they are for Miller today. Maybe he’s just good at inducing a lot of popups, and because he’s a flyball guy, he’s always going to run lower than average BABIPs, so he’s underrated by metrics that focus only on walks, strikeouts, and home runs or ground balls. Hellickson managed to keep things going through age-25, and then promptly fell apart, pitching poorly and getting injured. The Rays just shipped him to Arizona for two lower level prospects rather than bet on him returning to prior form.

More often than not, guys who post big gaps between their ERAs and their FIPs regress towards the latter, which is why FIP and xFIP work for most pitchers. It doesn’t mean Miller is definitely not an outlier, but he probably isn’t at outlier to the degree that he’s been so far, and he’s probably more of an okay pitcher than a very good one.

But even four years of an okay young arm is pretty valuable. After all, we’re looking at league average starters making $10-$12 million per year in free agency, and Miller will a little more than the league minimum this year, with three below-market arbitration years to follow. Even if Miller is more of a solid arm than a future ace, the Braves are getting a lot more quantity of value here, and they’re allocating it into the years where they think they might be more able to contend.

And Miller isn’t the only thing they’re getting. Tyrell Jenkins was a first round pick a couple of years ago, and while he’s battled arm problems since, Kiley McDaniel remains somewhat intrigued by his potential. Here’s Kiley’s updated take on Jenkins:

Jenkins missed the first half of 2014 recovering from shoulder surgery on a muscle in his shoulder (not the joint itself), something that had been bothering him for years. He turned 22 in the middle of this season and was understandably a bit rusty in half a season at High-A, but started to find his stride in the Arizona Fall League, where I scouted him a few weeks ago. He sat 92-94 and hit 96 mph, flashing above average fastball life at times, with an above average 80-83 mph hard curveball and a changeup at 81-84 mph that’s average when he keeps it down in the zone.

He’s incredibly athletic and the breaking ball has flashed plus at higher velocites, so there could still be even more in the tank than what I saw. I’d like to get a full, healthy 2015 on the books for Jenkins before i give a projection with some certainty, but he seems to be headed in the right direction now with enough starter traits to project him in a rotation. I’d grade him as a 50 FV/#4 starter now, but I could edit that up a notch by the middle of next season.

The combination of Miller and Jenkins give the Braves two live-arms that they’re buying somewhat low on, and if both end up pitching to their previously-believed potential, this would turn into a huge win for Atlanta. If either of them turn into quality mid-rotation starters, or if you think Miller is already that now, then this probably is a smart enough move for a somewhat-rebuilding team to divest a short-term asset into some future value.

Of course, if Miller is Hellickson 2.0 instead of Cain 2.0, and Jenkins is just another power arm who can’t miss bats, then this could look pretty terrible for the Braves as well. If Steamer is correct about Hewyard’s impending breakout, this could turn out to be a franchise player for a couple of arms with legitimate question marks who might turn out to be nothing at all. This move could be great, okay, or terrible for Atlanta, and it all depends on how the young arms develop, which is maybe the most difficult thing to project.

The fact that there’s no obvious most likely outcome suggests this is a pretty fair move for both sides. I probably prefer this a little bit from St. Louis’ perspective, since I lean more towards assuming Miller’s strikeout regression is a concern, but even I’d still say this is a fair return for a single year of a player looking at a monster paycheck next winter. The Cardinals get better now, and get a chance to make Heyward the new face of their franchise, while the Braves probaby get better for the future.

And that makes this seem like a smart trade for both teams. The Cardinals get the better player and a chance to extend a player the Braves weren’t going to keep, while the Braves get some good young pitching to make a stronger run in 2016. This is a deal that serves the purposes of both sides. It might end up favoring one or the other, but at the time of the deal, it makes sense for both Atlanta and St. Louis.

Where Do the Braves Go From Here?

Unlike the previous iteration of the “Where Do The _____ Go From Here”, the immediate future of this week’s focus, the Atlanta Braves, remains very much unwritten. The Braves are 5.5 games out of a National League Wild Card spot with one team to leap frog. Should a litany of things break their way, they’ll play at least one game of significant significance.

That said, the Braves finding themselves in that pivotal play-in game would represent a serious reversal of fortune. Right now, and for much of the last month, the Braves look bad. Their offense is abysmal, one of the worst in baseball in the second half of the season, and they just watched their main rival celebrate a division title in their own soil. Their ongoing presence in the playoff race is more a testament of the rather putrid NL Wild Card class, currently featuring a Giants team that opted not to win a single game during the summer months and the Milwaukee Brewers, currently showing the Braves what a real slump looks like.

The problems with the Braves are relatively minor. They won 96 games last year, which we know to be extremely good. They hung in the Wild Card race and at the top of the NL East all season despite losing 40% of their starting rotation before the year even started, and then losing their lottery ticket starter before they even got to scratch it. But the issues the Braves currently face are largely issues they might have addressed in the offseason.

After their surprisingly terrific 2013 season, Braves GM Frank Wren balanced a need to improve a club that perhaps misrepresented its true talent one year against very real budgetary concerns in the next. Other than nabbing Ervin Santana on a one year desperation deal and acquiring Ryan Doumit for mildly inexplicable reasons, they stood pat and are now paying the price.

“Why mess with a 96 win team?” you might wonder. The Braves did indeed post 96 wins in 2013, but the talent they had on hand at the start of 2014 projected to win 82-86 games. Right now, the problem for Atlanta is this team is about as good as it should be. They came into the year with a question marks at a few spots in the lineup and did nothing to address them. The Braves needed underperformers like B.J. Upton to rediscover their old form while the upstarts such as Chris Johnson needed to repeat their production of the previous season. Or they could make a push to improve their team and push themselves into 90 win territory, It didn’t happen.

So now we’re left to take stock of the Atlanta Braves, now and in the future.

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Bryce Harper, Craig Kimbrel and a Rare Moment of Weakness

I’m going to be honest, I feel a bit dirty writing this post. We’re now on year five of Craig Kimbrel being impossibly good. For four years he’s clearly been the best reliever in baseball and, frankly, it’s one of the better stretches of relief pitching we’ve seen in recent history. Yet, this is the first post on FanGraphs this year where he is the subject, and it’s about him making a mistake. Which, really, just reinforces how good Craig Kimbrel is. He’s so good that when he makes a mistake, it becomes news. On Wednesday, Kimbrel made a new kind of mistake.
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The Other NL MVP Candidates

The field for the National League Most Valuable Player Award is wide open, and in a good way. There are a bevy of well qualified candidates, and even if voters may now be uncertain as to what do with Giancarlo Stanton now given his injury, there are still three no-doubt top-of-the-ballot candidates: Andrew McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw and Jonathan Lucroy. These three have been in the spotlight all season, and with Stanton, figure to be the ones who take home the hardware. But that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones for whom there is a case worth making. There as many as six other players who deserve recognition, and with white-hot finishing kicks could put themselves into the mix with the top dogs.
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Different Process, Same Results for Andrelton Simmons

“With his defense, he doesn’t need to do much at the plate” is a common refrain heard in regards to the best defensive players in the game. Elite players at premium positions get a lot of rope, so valuable is their glove work. Especially at key, up-the-middle positions, the offensive bar is set so low that any contribution from the game’s best defenders can be considered a bonus.

In 2013, Andrelton Simmons was among the most productive players in baseball, thanks to his beyond-superlative defense. To the surprise of many, Simmons also slugged 17 home runs, offsetting his struggles to get on base to produce a nearly-league average season. His 91 wRC+ surpassed the average shortstop last season, which is a recipe for a successful season. If you hit better than most of the peers while definitely fielding better than most of your peers, you’re doing something right.

As 2014 began, Simmons and the Braves were clearly not content with his production levels and vowed to change him, to bring his swing under control and make him a more complete hitter. In June, Braves hitting coach Greg Walker explained to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it was a matter of identity for Simmons, one he needed to adjust. “You’ve got to make a decision on what type hitter you want to be. Do you want to be low-average guy, a power guy, and deal with a lot of failure?”

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The Braves Are Handing The NL East To The Nationals

At the close of business on July 20, the Braves and Nationals were exactly where they’d been for six of the previous seven days and for most of the season: tied. The two teams had been no further apart than 3.5 games all season long, continuing the two-headed competition that the NL East has been for the last several seasons since the Phillies stopped being competitive. (Your day will come, Mets and Marlins. Probably.)

At the time, our playoff odds still favored the Nationals to take the division simply because the projections considered them to be the better team, but it was easy to believe that the race was still a toss-up. After all, the Nationals were the big favorites in 2013, and they finished 10 games behind. They were the big favorites in 2014, and they weren’t doing all that much to back it up. I wondered last winter if we were overrating the Nationals coming into this year, and they certainly making it seem that way.

Just over three weeks later, the Nationals are holding a comfortable five-game lead in the NL East. Only one team in baseball has a higher likelihood of winning the division in our current playoff odds. The Nationals must have finally turned it on, right? Actually, no. They’re just 11-10 in the 21 games since. Ryan Zimmerman suffered another serious injury. Bryce Harper has been mediocre. Asdrubal Cabrera was their big trade deadline pickup. They haven’t suddenly woken up.

Instead, the Braves have gone on to drop 15 of their next 21. No team in baseball has won fewer games over that stretch. After losing all eight games on a west coast road trip, they’ve now lost three of their last four. They’re closer to the third-place Marlins than to the first-place Nationals. While the baseball world is busy watching what’s happening in Kansas City and Detroit, Atlanta is doing their best to hand this race to Washington. Read the rest of this entry »

Prospect Watch: High-Ceiling Teenage Arms

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

This time around, I bring you tales of three teenagers who really stood out in recent viewings.


Brent Honeywell, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 19  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 10/1 K/BB, 0.00 ERA, 1.58 FIP

Honeywell already looks like a steal with the 72nd pick in the draft.

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Prospect Watch: ’14 Draftee Arms in the Appy

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment of the PW, I’m focusing on three hurlers in the Appalachian League who were just selected in the top three rounds of the 2014 draft.


Foster Griffin, LHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 18  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 8.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 6/3 K/BB, 1.04 ERA, 5.15 FIP

More about projection than current ability, Griffin is nonetheless off to a good start in pro ball.

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Prospect Watch: Groundball Artists

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment, I examine three interesting groundball prospects who most have probably never heard of.

Ryan Newell, RHP, Miami Marlins (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 23   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 84 IP, 71 H, 29 R, 73/18 K/BB, 2.46 ERA, 3.23 FIP

Newell’s exceptional plane and solid slider have allowed him to carve up Low-A hitters.

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“I Wish We Could Get Guys Like That”

Weird things about baseball fascinate me. One of those things is the concept of discarded players. Every once in awhile, you’ll see a player doing well and think to yourself, “Hey, wasn’t he on our team at one point?” David Carpenter is one such player. Watching him face the Red Sox this week, I couldn’t help but think that it would be sure nice if the Sox had him right now instead of Craig Breslow. Sure, the world will keep on spinning, and Carpenter wouldn’t make or break the 2014 Red Sox, but every little bit counts, and the Red Sox gave him away for free after just five weeks on the roster. In situations like these, we often jokingly say (or at least I do), “Hey, I wish we could get guys like that!”

I don’t mean to pick on the Red Sox, because every team does this. If you scan rosters, you’ll find one such player on just about every roster. And originally, my intention was to run down that list and look at them all individually. But then I got a look at this trade. On July 31, 2010, the Atlanta Braves traded Gregor Blanco, Jesse Chavez and Tim Collins to the Kansas City Royals for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth. Take a look:

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Jason Heyward Still Providing Value

In baseball, as in life, perspective is crucial. In terms of the terribly struggling Atlanta Braves offense, Jason Heyward‘s 79 wRC+ is merely one issue among many, because this is a team that’s also rolling out Ryan Doumit (34 wRC+), Dan Uggla (40), B.J. Upton (68) and Chris Johnson (also 79) on a semi-regular or more basis. When the entire offense is so wretched that as a team, their .302 OBP — and yes, I have filtered out the pitchers, so this is only the guys actually paid to hit — is No. 28 in baseball, it’s hard to single out the guy who’s been more “meh” than “flaming poisonous tire fire” when there’s more than one of the latter around.

In terms merely of Jason Heyward, who debuted at 20 with hype commensurate to Bryce Harper, homered in his first plate appearance, and is the owner of seasons of 4.6 and 6.4 WAR, this can only be seen as a huge disappointment. That 79 wRC+ is equal or essentially so to Curtis Granderson and Carlos Santana, each hitting under .200; to Allen Craig, who has looked like he’s playing a different sport; to Eric Young, who is inexplicably getting playing time over Juan Lagares; to Chris Colabello, all but assured of a minor league stint in his future.

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A Week of Andrelton Simmons Missing Plays

Let’s talk about slumps. Mike Trout is drawing some attention for his elevated strikeouts, and he’s on pace for 21 fewer batting runs than he produced a year ago. Prince Fielder’s had some trouble adjusting to his move, and he’s on pace for 29 fewer batting runs than he produced a year ago. Robinson Cano up and changed sides of the continent, and he’s on pace for 34 fewer batting runs than he produced a year ago. These are all pretty big statistical declines, and while the players are each too good to give up on after so little time, their numbers are getting noticed. People are impatiently waiting for the players to look like themselves. I should note that Trout’s still been amazing, on account of being Mike Trout, but one can be simultaneously amazing and worse.

You know what nine or ten runs mean. You know the rule of thumb is that’s about what a win is. A win’s a pretty big deal, so those declines above are pretty big deals. And, of course, offense isn’t the only area where numbers fluctuate. Defensive Runs Saved, as shown on FanGraphs, updates daily. A year ago, as a shortstop, Andrelton Simmons was worth 41 runs above average in the field. This year he’s on pace for +4. He’s a full-time player on pace to be worse by 37 runs, and that’s an enormous gap that to my knowledge no one’s discussed.

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What The Braves’ Historic Pitching Month Means

We’re into that sort-of in-between part of the early season, the part where it’s early enough where you can see ridiculous things like Charlie Blackmon hitting .379/.425/.621 and know that the dreaded “small sample size” caveat is absolutely in play, but also to know that it’s not that early any longer and that the things we’re seeing count. Whether it’s to further inform us about a player or a team, or just to have added value and wins now that will be important later even if the current production can’t be maintained, what we’ve seen over the first month matters. It’s just up to us to decide how much it matters.

That’s where we are with the Atlanta Braves, who have somehow managed to keep their early run of insanely good pitching alive and well through the end of April. And when I say insanely good, I mean just that. Even after Alex Wood got hit hard in Miami on Tuesday night, Atlanta’s rotation ERA- is 55. Since Jackie Robinson integrated the game in 1947, the lowest rotation ERA- we have on record for a full season is 73, by three teams, including the 1997 and ’98 Braves of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. If it’s unfair to compare a month of play to full seasons, well, then you might like to know that since the 1968 “Year of the Pitcher,” only three other teams have had a rotation ERA below 2.00 in a month of at least 25 games, as the Braves currently do. Each of those teams — the 1976 Dodgers, 1992 Braves and 2011 Phillies — had at least one Hall of Famer in the rotation or someone with a strong case to be there in the future.

That the 2014 Cardinals sit second behind the Braves on the ERA- list further shows you how early it is, that the Braves won’t continue pitching like this, and that regression is coming. Obviously. Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana aren’t going to pitch like Maddux and Smoltz all yearI imagine it isn’t shocking, breaking news that the 2014 Braves aren’t going to end up as the pitching version of the 1927 Yankees.  Read the rest of this entry »